Sydney Greenstreet

Greenstreet Casablanca

Birth Name: Sydney Hughes Greenstreet

Birthdate: December 27, 1879

Date of Death: January 18, 1954

Number of Films Sydney Greenstreet made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

The Actor

The son of a leather merchant, Sydney Greenstreet spent some time working in both the tea industry and a brewery before finally finding his calling on the stage in England as the villain in an adaption of a Sherlock Holmes play. Adept at comedy, musicals, and Shakespeare, Greenstreet worked in both Europe and America, holding out against the call from Hollywood until he finally accepted the role of Kaspar “The Fat Man” Gutman in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon at the age of 61.

It’s pretty astonishing to consider that Gutman was Greenstreets first film role, as he seems just as comfortable in front of the camera as he supposedly was on the stage. I’m incredibly jealous of all the audiences that got to see him live and in person for years before he finally gave in to Tinsel Town’s beckoning and headed west. From his numerous pairings with Peter Lorre to his five iconic roles with Bogart, I firmly believe that there hasn’t been a big-man actor with such a commanding presence onscreen since Greenstreet’s last film over 60 years ago.

Did they really base the character of The Kingpin from Daredevil comics on Greenstreet? Was George Lucas actually inspired to model Jabba the Hut after the 300+ pound actor? Hollywood myth and legend says so, and I’m inclined to believe it because Greenstreet was certainly worthy of every praise and accolade that came his way!

This entry into “The Usual Suspects” portion of the Bogie Film Blog is long overdue, and doggone it, I think I’m going to pop in Passage to Marseille tonight just to get another dose of my favorite cinematic big man.

The Filmography

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

Maltese Falcon Greenstreet

Greenstreet plays Kaspar “The Fat Man” Gutman, the treasure seeking heavy that’s following the falcon around the globe. What an incredible film debut! Greenstreet steals nearly every scene that he’s in with his amazing laugh and exuberant confidence. His constant amusement over Bogart’s confusion is wonderful, and it’s a real shame that it took so long to get this man to the big screen, “By gad!” The scene where he turns on his henchman Wilmer is so painfully funny and well done that it might be my favorite bit from all of his films. A villain who so believably loves life while committing dastardly crimes at the same time is the best kind of bad guy a film could ever hope for. Greenstreet also reprised his role numerous times for radio adaptions of the film, which you can check out here and here. You can read my original write up on the film here.

In This Our Life – 1942

Greenstreet NO

Directed by John Huston, rumor had it that Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and a few others had appeared in the film during a tavern scene as background players to add a little “in-joke” for Huston fans. Whether the scene was cut out from the film or just a hoax to begin with, none of them are visible. Is the film still worth a watch? You bet! Bette Davis is always worth spending an evening with! Just don’t get your hopes up for this superstar cameo that doesn’t deliver! You can read my original write up on the film here.

Across the Pacific – 1942

Greenstreet Bogart Astor

Greenstreet plays the cagey Dr. Lorenz, a passenger who seems to have untoward intentions as he shares an oceanic voyage with Bogart and Mary Astor. What I really loved about Greenstreet here is that his character is an incredibly wealthy world traveler, meaning Greenstreet is dressed to the nines and drenched with a slightly more authentic sophistication than he was in The Maltese Falcon. One of my all-time favorite Greenstreet-Bogart scenes occurs when Greenstreet needles Bogart’s history out of him with an endless supply of booze. Any classic Bogart film has at least one drunk Bogie scene in it. Adding Greenstreet into the mix just makes it all the better! Greenstreet reprised his role for a radio adaption, and you can read my original write up on the film here.

Casablanca – 1942

Greenstreet Casa 2

Greenstreet plays Signor Ferrari, Bogart’s main nightclub competitor in Casablanca. Whenever I consider this film from memory, Bogart and Greenstreet always seem like enemies. But every time I view it, I’m reminded that these guys might actually be pretty decent friends – maybe even playing a few games of after-hours chess over drinks when curfew kicks in. Just consider for a moment that Blaine entrusts his entire staff, including Sam, into Ferrari’s hands at the end of the film on nothing more than a handshake deal! That’s got to be a great show of faith in a man who’s supposedly trying to beat you at your own game. It’s an amazing testament to Greenstreet’s presence here that most casual fans seem to remember this as his signature role, even though his part isn’t that big! You can read my original write up on the film here.

Passage to Marseille – 1942

Passage Greenstreet

Greenstreet plays French officer Major Duval, who happens to be traveling on a boat with a number of recently escaped french convicts trying to get to England as word breaks that Germany now occupies France. The ever-so-snarky Major Duval doesn’t feel very patriotic to his homeland, and can’t get back to France quickly enough to show his support to the Nazis as he turns over the prisoners to the proper authorities. The real story in the cast here is the alliance between Bogart and Peter Lorre as they get to play outright friends as opposed to enemies or even tense allies, but Greentstreet’s presence certainly makes this one an underappreciated classic! You can read my original write up on the film here.

Conflict – 1945

Bogart and Sydney in Conflict

Greenstreet plays psychologist Dr. Mark Hamilton, family friend to Bogart’s murderous Dick Mason. How great is it to not only see Greenstreet play a good guy in a Bogart film, but to see them actually chum around a bit before things get tense? Greenstreet is so good as the warm and gregarious Dr. Hamilton that you just want to give the big guy a hug. He seems truly happy in the role, and when you view the film for the second and third times, it’s a lot of fun to see him subtly tipping his hat towards the twist ending. Definitely a must see collaboration between Bogart and Greenstreet! You can read my original write up on the film here.

-“The Usual Suspects” is an ongoing feature at the Bogie Film Blog where we dive a tad bit deeper into some of Bogart’s most recurring collaborators. You can find the rest of the posts here.-

Casablanca – 1942

Casablanca Poster

My Review

—Hollywood’s Greatest Film—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie

Director: Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

An American expat (Bogart) running a nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco during World War II is surprised when his ex (Ingrid Bergman) shows up, married to the leader (Pal Henried) of Europe’s underground resistance.

What I Thought

This is it. The absolute pinnacle of Bogart films as far as I’m concerned, which is why I saved it for last. This was the cherry on the top of a year-and-a-half of Bogart film viewing.

Sure, I’ve seen Casablanca so many times that I’ve lost count, but this was the first time that I’ve sat down with a more analytical eye. Knowing that I was going to do a write-up, I asked myself, Why is this film so perfect in my mind? Why was this the film that served as my gateway into classic cinema? Why is this film remembered by many, if not most casual film fans, as Bogart’s greatest role?

I think a majority of the credit has to go to Director Michael Curtiz. From beginning to end, the city of Casablanca feels like a fully realized world. The daytime scenes are crammed from one edge of the screen to other with bustling crowds filling city streets and diversely populated nightclub scenes. The city is supposed to be overflowing with people looking to escape the war and Director Curtiz nailed it. This film is bursting at the seams with background artists, minor roles cast to perfection, supporting roles with some of Hollywood’s greatest character actors, and a handful of main characters that are handled deftly and given the time that they each need to establish their moments in the story.

Another huge chunk of credit goes to the twin Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip, who adapted the play for the big screen. There are a lot of great stories about how the Epstein’s regarded this script as just another studio assignment, how they wrote and rewrote scenes the very day that they were needed, and how they never really thought much of the finished film. (Julius was quoted as saying it not nothing more than “slick shit.” Hardly a ringing endorsement.)

The script is filled with dozens upon dozens of quotable lines. Yet at the same time, it was just incomplete and loose enough that the actors were able to fill in their own memorable moments when needed. Bogart reportedly supplied the line, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and it was producer Hal Wallis who supposedly came up with, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” and had it dubbed in after shooting was complete.

“Are my eyes really brown?”

“Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.”

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

“I came to Casablanca for the waters.”

“You know, Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.”

“I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.”

“Round up the usual suspects.”

“Such watch?”

These are just a few of the lines that I try very hard to work into my daily conversations and I hope that the comments section of this post is LOADED with all the quotes that I didn’t mention.

But back to Director Curtiz. What strikes me as most interesting is that this was one of seven film collaborations that he had with Bogart. Curtiz worked on a limited number of scenes for both Black Legion and Marked Woman, and directed Kid Galahad, Angels with Dirty Faces, Virginia City, Passage to Marseille, and We’re No Angels. Some of those other collaborations are good. A few I would even consider to be great. But in my mind, none come close to Casablanca’s perfection.

The Bogart Factor

After so many viewings, this was the very first time that I’ve ever really noticed how the entire span of Bogart’s career seems to be contained within nightclub owner Rick Blaine. Since this was the last film in my Bogart journey, it probably helps that I’ve now sat through all of his other work from the beginning, no matter how small a part it might have been.

Especially during the flashbacks of France, we see an energetic, ever-so-slightly goofy and naïve character much like the ones Bogart played in Up the River, Love Affair, and Men Are Such Fools. It’s just enough “aw shucks” shoulder shrugging that I was really reminded of how wide Bogart’s range could be when we transition back to the darkened bar where he’s drinking away his memories of Ilsa and Paris.

There in the bar, we have the much more tightly wound, much angrier, much more depressed man who shows up in many of Bogart’s gangster roles, but perhaps especially films like San Quentin, Dead End, or The Petrified Forest. Films where Bogart seems to spend most of his time reflecting on how poorly his life has turned out and how desperately he wishes to move past his resentment and remorse.

And yet, at the core of Rick Blaine is the confident, loyal, trustworthy, stand-up man who will always end up doing the right thing, even if he tries to convince you that he sticks his neck out for no one! This is the type of character that we see Bogart playing later in his career – the Sam Spade’s, Rick Leland’s, and the majority of brooding expatriates that stick their necks out for everybody that filled Bogart’s filmography for the next ten plus years.

A white tuxedo. A trench coat and fedora. Cigarettes. Booze. A shady past. A mysterious woman. A broken heart. A pistol. These are the very things that Bogart helped define as icons of Classic Hollywood cinema and they’re all on display here in Casablanca. Of all his films, this is the one that I come back to again and again when I need a full and complete Bogart fix. I’ve found many other films where his performances might be more nuanced – more well-rounded – but this is definitively and understandably the role that establishes him as Hollywood’s greatest leading man.

The Cast

Ingrid Bergman plays Ilsa Lund, Bogart’s ex and the current wife of the underground resistance leader Victor Laszlo. I can’t say enough good things about Bergman here, as this is her essential performance as far as I’m concerned. I know it doesn’t have as much depth as a few of her other high profile roles, but doggone it if I still don’t know whether or not she was really ready to leave Laszlo for Blaine at the end of the film. That nighttime scene in the bar just after Rick’s first flashback . . . drunk Bogart . . . forlorned Bergman . . . so good.

Dooley Wilson plays the piano playing singer at Rick’s Café Américain, Sam. What an incredible job Wilson does here playing the greatest wingman any guy could ever hope for. It was only after viewing the film for the umpteenth time that I realized Wilson’s fingers are in no-way-shape-or-form playing that piano believably, yet it took me forever to notice because I can’t take my eyes off of his face and my ears away from his voice. The guy was a natural, and in my dream of dreams I would go through Wilson’s entire filmography just to see if he did anything else that was as close to great as his performance in Casablanca. (Did I JUST read on imdb that he’s an uncredited piano player in Knock on Any Door?!? I will see if this is true TONIGHT!) *It is 100% true! Just after the 47 minute mark, there he is playing piano and accepting a beer!!! – 8/14/14 BFB*

Paul Henreid plays the battle weary and aged-beyond-his-years resistance leader, Victor Laszlo. According to Hollywood lore, Henreid almost didn’t take the role because he wasn’t the lead and he was afraid that it would set him back in his career. Thank goodness he accepted the part, because so much of the film’s gravitas depends heavily on us not hating Laszlo even though he’s standing in Rick Blaine’s way to Ilsa. To be fair to his initial instincts, Henreid isn’t remembered as one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men, but I don’t think that’s any fault of his supporting role in this film. He’s a great actor and very handsome, but just didn’t have that uber-unique look or acting style that let him break into the upper echelon of Hollywood’s greatest legends.

Claude Rains wonderfully plays Bogart’s friend and sometime foil, Captain Louis Renault. What a testament to Rains’ talent that he can commit completely despicable deeds one moment, and have us laughing with joy the next. Rains was an insanely talented supporting actor, and I can never get enough of his work. I can’t be the only one who wants to see just a few minutes of Renault and Blaine’s post-Casablanca adventure together! Can you imagine these two guys fighting, drinking, joking, cajoling, and swindling their way through German troops as they work for the French resistance?

Conrad Veidt plays Major Heinrich Strasser, the head Nazi in charge of catching Victor Laszlo and making sure that he spends the rest of his life in a concentration camp, or dead. It’s not a huge role for Veidt, as he’s mainly used as an imposing villain to move the plot along, but as with the rest of the roles in the film, this one’s cast very well.

Sidney Greenstreet plays Signor Ferrari, Rick Blaine’s main nightclub competitor in Casablanca. Until this viewing, I never stopped to consider how cordial Ferrari and Blaine are when they’re together. I think these guys might actually be pretty decent friends – maybe even playing a few games of after-hours chess over drinks when curfew kicks in. Just consider for a moment that Blaine entrusts his entire staff, including Sam, into Ferrari’s hands at the end of the film. That’s got to be a great show of faith in a man who’s supposedly trying to beat you at your own game.

Peter Lorre plays the black market dealer Ugarte. How fantastic is this guy that he could make such a memorable contribution to this film with such a small part? I’m seriously shocked again and again as I watch this film and realize that he’s only in a hand full of scenes, yet his role looms very large over the legend and mythos of Casablanca.

S. Z. Sakall plays Carl, the host/waiter in Rick’s café. A wonderful, lovable, solid, hilarious, and incredibly talented supporting actor. The scene where he watches Rick help the young couple win at roulette is enough to make you want to hug him.

There’s Bogie Film Blog favorite Dan Seymour playing Abdul the doorman! He very few lines here in this tiny role, but he is namechecked by Rick!

And there are TONS of other supporting actors who deserve a mention, but I gotta stop somewhere!

Classic Bogie Moment

How? HOW do I pick here?!? There is too, too, too much to choose from. Trench coat and fedora? White tux? A pic with Lorre? One with Greenstreet? I gotta go with this one, because Dooley Wilson just doesn’t get enough love on this blog:

Casablanca classic

The Bottom Line

I came home from high school one afternoon and my mom was just at the beginning of this film. I’d never sat through an entire classic film before, but decided to give it a try. I’ve never looked back. After 465 days and 115 posts of my own personal nonstop Bogart movie marathon, I’ve grown to appreciate not only Bogart in a much greater capacity, but Classic Hollywood, and film as a whole.

Long live the legacy of Humphrey Bogart.

Lady Esther and the Screen Guild Players – Across the Pacific – 1943

Across the Pacific Poster

My Review

—Drastically Abridged, but It Works!— 

Honorary Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes 3 out of 5 Radio Bogies!

The Lowdown

For my synopsis of the storyline from Across the Pacific, you can read my original write up on the film here.

What I Thought

I know that I probably don’t need to say this, but you should definitely watch the film before listening to the broadcast.  Some of the bigger plot twists and character motivations are given away in the opening segment by the narrator.  From the very beginning we know who’s who and what they’re after.

That being said, I can’t really explain why this radio broadcast works so well.  Almost all of the actual action has been removed from the story except for two key scenes – one in which Bogart is knocked unconscious, and the big shoot out at the end – but the conversations between the three main leads keep things humming along at a crisp enough pace that you don’t notice.

We also get another taste of Bogart as the narrator, albeit briefly, when his character of Rick Leland breaks the fourth wall and interrupts the actual narrator to move the story along at the beginning.  It’s not nearly as much narration as he had during The Maltese Falcon broadcast a few weeks ago, but it’s kind of fun, despite the fact that he essentially spoils all of the film’s big surprises in order to jump ahead in the story.

What really makes this radio broadcast work is the chemistry and conversations between the three main leads.  Bogart and Astor seem to be just as smitten as in the original film, and Bogart and Greenstreet share so many sparks while working alongside one another that they could probably read the phone book and it would be captivating.  While this version of the story may not be as action packed as its source material, the writing is sharp and it gives us some of the best bits of dialogue from the film.

The Japanese stereotyping is still here, as it’s pretty central to the story, but it’s not nearly as heavy as it was in the film since we don’t get a visual on the characters.  Although, when Rick’s buddy Sam shows up, the accent is more than a little over the top.

All in all, if you’re a fan of the film you’ll find this an easy listen at just a little over half an hour.

The Bogart Factor

I downloaded this one from the Warner Archive Podcast, and unlike a lot of other classic radio broadcasts that survive from that era, this one’s crystal clear.  There’s a few times we hear the studio audience (see below for one example), and it reminds me again how lucky these folks were to have the chance to see these cinema legends firsthand recreating iconic roles.

There are no stutters or dropped lines here, as Bogart seems especially laid back behind the microphone.  Again, he’s brought his A-game to the broadcast and gives 100%.

The Cast

This is the film that sold me on Mary Astor, and while her part is significantly shortened for the radio, she’s great here.  I love the fact that she can deliver her lines in such a way that I feel like I can actually hear when she’s smiling.  Out of the three Astor broadcasts that I’ve listened to thus far, this one’s been my favorite as she really sounds just as attractive as Bogart’s dialogue makes her out to be.

Sydney Greenstreet is the real scene stealer here as so much of Bogart’s time is spent in exposition.  His laugh is much more subdued than it was in The Maltese Falcon radio broadcasts, but there is such joy in the delivery of his lines that I am once again envious of everyone who ever got to see him do live theater.

Classic Bogie Moment

Well, it seems that every classic Bogart film has at least one drunk Bogie scene.  I’m ready to state that every great Bogart radio appearance has at least one knocked out Bogie groan.  Not only does he get knocked out, but it takes two hits from Greenstreet’s goon, so we get double the groans before he hits the floor!  Unlike the knockout in the Falcon broadcasts though, the audience here giggles a bit.  What happened on stage to make them titter?  We’ll never know!

The Bottom Line

This certainly won’t quench a healthy thirst for a Bogart Fix, but it’s a nice way to spend a short drive.

Across the Pacific – 1942

Across the Pacific

My Review

—As Good as an Action Thriller Can Get—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: John Huston (Vincent Sherman finished the film, uncredited, after Huston was called off to film war documentaries.)

The Lowdown

After being kicked out of the military for stealing funds, Rick Leland (Bogart) entertains the thought of selling out to the Japanese during World War II after meeting another traveler (Sydney Greenstreet) and a mysterious woman (Mary Astor) while on a ship headed for Asia.

What I Thought

When Hollywood has a hit film, the first thing they do is try to find the formula for it and do it all over again.  Most famously in Bogart’s career, he made a few movies after Casablanca that were accused of being a little too reminiscent of the blockbuster. Some of the films, like Tokyo Joe, have been quite fairly accused of falling into this category. Other films, like Chain Lightning, might bear some resemblance as well, but I feel that they’ve been unfairly compared.

But a few months before Casablanca was released, America got Across the Pacific – a film that some considered an attempt by the studio to recreate the magic from The Maltese Falcon. Three of the core cast from Falcon were back for lead roles, with Greenstreet even being referenced as “the fat man” at least once by another character.  Add into the mix the same director that helped Bogart become a household name, and yes, it certainly does seem like Warner Brothers was stacking the deck in an attempt to get lighting to strike twice.

While Across the Pacific is not The Maltese Falcon, it is one of the best action-adventure thrillers of its time, and if not for the Japanese stereotyping, I think this one would probably get a little more play in the greatest Bogart films ever conversations.

Huston does amazing things with his trio of stars. He gives us exactly what we want from Bogart and Greenstreet, shaping characters for both of them that play up to their specific skill sets. With Astor, we get something similar to the mystery that surrounded her in Falcon, but with a different spin. There’s a greater sense of playfulness this time around as she portrays more of a girl-next-door. The change is great, and even though nothing physically was changed, I have a whole new respect for Astor’s acting range and beauty.

Huston, as always, is an incredibly efficient director, giving us no wasted scenes and making everything from the smallest conversations to the biggest action sequences riveting and beautifully shot. Bogart’s shootout and escape from the movie theater has to be, hands down, the BEST action scene I’ve ever seen him in. The fact that there’s a knife thrower mixed into the chase makes it all the more crazy, and the choreography is done so well that it’s impossible to tell when Bogart’s work ends and the stunt double takes over – just like it should be.

My only complaint about the film is that I felt the script tipped its hat a little bit too early as to some of the twists in the story. Rather than giving us a major character reveal thirty minutes in, I would have rather been left in the dark until the climax. The scene works, and it sets up some good momentary tension later in the film, but I would have been fine with questioning everyone’s motives for just a little bit longer.

Director Huston also gives us one of the most graphic beatdown scenes I’ve seen in classic film between Bogart and Greenstreet when the big man attacks Bogart with his cane after Bogart is already unconscious. Like the very best directors, Huston shows us no real violence, but has Greenstreet deliver his blows just offscreen, making our imaginations do all of the grotesque work of creating visuals for the horrible sounds we’re hearing. It’s a brilliant and disturbing moment of violence that sticks with you long after the film is over.

Does the name of the film strike you as funny? You know, considering the fact that they never even actually make it to the Pacific Ocean? Well, it turns out, in an amazing coincidence, that the original script of this film actually predicted the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. After the actual attack, the script was quickly changed to make the plot revolve around an attack on the Panama Canal so as not to belittle the real life tragedy. Despite the plot change, the film’s title was left alone.

The Bogart Factor

While the character of Rick Leland might not carry as much gravitas of some of Bogart’s more classic roles, this was a character that he was born to play. Fedora, trench coat, cigarettes, the requisite drunk-Bogie scene, a beautiful woman, dangerous enemies, and plenty of intrigue – very few of Hollywood’s stars could lend a film like this as much credibility as Bogart does. I truly can’t imagine anyone else filling in this role and having the same effect.

I also think that the love scenes here between Bogart and Astor are a step up from Falcon. I know how blasphemous that might be to write, but I don’t think I ever truly believed that he fell for her in Falcon. Here though, it plays out beautifully. Oh man . . . that scene with the three of them on the deck of the ship .

Greenstreet Bogart Astor

The Cast

Mary Astor is top notch as Alberta Marlow, the mysterious woman who’s sailing with Bogart and Greenstreet. I really enjoyed the fact that we don’t get to find out the full story on her until the end of the film, and I wish that had been the case for at least one other character. Again, I have to say that I think this role fit her a little more comfortably than the one she played in The Maltese Falcon. I feel that she just comes off as more compelling and attractive when she gets to be a little comedic and playful.

Sydney Greenstreet plays the cagey Dr. Lorenz, another passenger on the boat who seems to have untoward intentions for Bogart and Astor. What I really loved about Greenstreet here is that his character is an incredibly wealthy world traveler, meaning Greenstreet is dressed to the nines and a tad more sophisticated in his demeanor than he was in The Maltese Falcon. One of my all-time favorite Greenstreet-Bogart scenes occurs when Greenstreet plies Bogart’s past out of him with an endless supply of booze. Any classic Bogart film has at least one drunk Bogie scene in it. Adding Greenstreet into the mix just makes it all the better!

Victor Sen Yung plays a traveler sharing passage on the boat, Joe Totsuiko. Again, there are some pretty strong stereotypes to be had here – some of which are played up to hide his character’s real identity – but it’s over the top. (Especially the glasses.) It is kind of fun seeing him judo-throw Bogart during a martial arts exhibition on the boat.

Lee Tung Foo plays Bogart’s old friend and sidekick, Sam Wing On. It’s not a huge role, and Foo is no Dooley Wilson, but he’s solid in the role. He’s also probably the only Asian actor in the film who gets a semi-non-stereotyped role.

Roland Got plays ship steward ‘Shoulda-be’ Sugi. 90% of his lines are two words . . . “Shoulda-be!” There are laughs to be had, but you never feel great about having them.

Paul Stanton and Charles Halton appear in small roles as undercover contacts for the U.S. military. They’re both fine in their roles but don’t have a whole lot to work with.

Classic Bogie Moment

How could I not go with a shot of Bogart and Greenstreet together? What’s even better is that they get another chance to play allies (somewhat), and so we get to see them enjoy each other’s company over a few drinks, and a comparison of pistols!

Bogart Greenstreet Across the Pacific

Mine’s bigger than yours . . .

.

The Bottom Line

I love this film, and I can never get enough of Bogart and Greenstreet together. Supposedly, Huston snuck Peter Lorre onto the set to play a waiter on the ship during shooting one day to play a joke on Greenstreet. While no footage of the incident seems to exist, it’s a great gag, and I’m only left to imagine how much fun it would have been to add Lorre into the mix here.

The Screen Guild Theater Presents: The Maltese Falcon – 1943

SGT Maltese Falcon

My Review

—A Poor Adaption Leads to a Decent Climax—

Radio Fixes 2 out of 5 radio Bogies!

The Lowdown

For my Maltese Falcon synopsis, you can read my original write up on the film here. And if you really want to try and follow the plot in this heavily condensed radio version of the story, you’d better watch the film first, or you’ll be lost!

What I Thought

I was really looking forward to listening to this broadcast after writing up the 1946 Academy Award Theater Presents: The Maltese Falcon last week. I mean, this version had to be better, right? It’s adds Peter Lorre into the mix, reprising his role as Joel Cairo! While the still unknown radio player that portrayed Cairo in last week’s version was good, no one can stand alongside of Lorre and look good, right?

Hmmm.

This broadcast was a bit of a mess. Lorre was not only hardly used, but his best scene from the film, the one where they first meet and Lorre wants to search Bogart’s office, isn’t even in the broadcast! It’s completely cut out and only briefly referenced when Sam Spade tells Brigid O’Shaughnessy that he knows Cairo. Ugh. Lorre was right there! That would have been some easy magic to recreate!

The other big change from the show that I reviewed last week is that this version of the script uses a radio announcer to narrate the story rather than Sam Spade himself. This means that there’s much less Bogart. For some reason, it also means that any action from first ¾ of the story is summed up in the narration rather than heard, as the broadcast steamrolls past any actual plot to get us to the very well written final scene between Spade, O’Shaughnessy, Kaspar Gutman, and Joel Cairo. If you can make it through the first 20 minutes of bland dialogue, that final scene is worth a listen, but if I were you, I’d skip right to it.

In an interesting twist on the 1941 film, one of the four main characters ends up dead at the end of this version. Even considering that interesting changeup, the script still holds true to its lackluster form and we don’t actually get to ‘witness’ it happen . . .

The Bogart Factor

To be honest, I actually enjoyed this version of Bogart’s performance better. He seems to have slipped into character a little bit more and he doesn’t sound like he’s reading his lines quite as much as he does in the later 1946 version. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough script coherence or decent direction for me to recommend this show fully. This one’s just for Bogart completists.

The Cast

Mary Astor reprises her role from the film as the femme fatale, Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Unlike the 1946 radio version, Astor seems much less interested in performing here and if I hadn’t been told that it was Astor, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. She’s not bad, but compared to the film and the 1946 radio broadcast, she just seems flat.

Sydney Greenstreet reprises the role of Kaspar Gutman, the “fat man” who’s chasing the bird around the world. Even in the last scene where it seems that the reins are finally taken off of the actors, his performance seems caged compared to the 1946 version. The laugh is there, but little else. It’s not his fault though, the script just offers him nothing to work with.

In the biggest disappointment of all, Peter Lorre reprises his role as Joel Cairo, one of the criminals chasing after the bird, only to be relegated to the sidelines for the entire show. Although, saying that he’s “relegated to the sidelines” would be a generous metaphor to use, and I might better say that he’s more of a third string waterboy in the storyline as his part is miniscule and it doesn’t even sound like they let him stand near the microphone!

Classic Bogie Moment

He does his best, but all of the bite that Sam Spade has in the film is taken away when so much of his dialogue is spent recapping action instead of showing it. That being said, Bogart really does light up when he gets to bounce his performance off of Greenstreet, and with only a limited number of performances shared by the two greats, I’ll take what I can get. Bogart again gives 100% to this role, even if it is just a sad and condensed version of the classic film.

The Bottom Line

If you’ve got nothing else to listen to in the car, go for it. I might make it sound a little worse than it is, but the 1946 version is definitely a step up!

Academy Award Theater Radio: The Maltese Falcon – 1946

MT1

My Review

—A Fun/Flawed Abridged Version—

Director: Dee Engelbach

Honorary Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes 3 out of 5 Radio Bogies!

The Lowdown

For my Maltese Falcon synopsis, you can read my original write up on the film here. No major plot-altering details have been changed for the radio version, so it should suffice! Besides, if you’re reading this post and you haven’t seen the film yet . . . what’s your deal?!

What I Thought

This is one of three radio versions of The Maltese Falcon that Bogart performed over the years after the film’s initial release. I’m reviewing this one in particular because good friend of the ‘Bogie Film Blog,’ @MeanStsOTRPod, podcasted this episode of Academy Award Theater last Sunday on his Down These Mean Streets podcast. (Go listen to it right now. It’s okay. I’ll wait for you to come back.) If you’re a podcast listener and a fan of classic film, you should probably subscribe to this guy’s feed on iTunes. It’s always worth it. Somewhere down the line the Bogie Blog will cover the other Falcon broadcasts on Thursday posts.

Produced on CBS for Academy Award Theater by “The House of Squibb” (Bristol-Meyers Squibb now), this is a very abridged version of the film wherein Bogart gets to sum up and skip over about ¾ of the film with voiceover narration. So we lose some key scenes from the film, but we get lots of extra Bogart voice work instead. Is the tradeoff worth it? Not quite. It feels a bit rushed and the plot is a little tougher to navigate, but can you really complain when we get to hear Bogart, Mary Astor, and Sydney Greenstreet back together again? While the script may not be top notch quality, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Unlike previous live radio broadcasts that I’ve posted about, the audience doesn’t seem miked as well, so we only hear them react/laugh a few times in the show when Bogart or Greenstreet have a particularly good line or reaction. So other than a few minor line flubs by Bogart, you’d hardly even know that they did this one before an audience.

Despite the shortened run time and the exclusion of some of The Maltese Falcon’s best moments, the interplay between Bogart and Greenstreet is amazingly fun. The relationship between Bogart and Astor seems slightly tweaked from the film as well, but I’ll cover that more in the cast review below.

My only question – who played Peter Lorre’s part as Joel Cairo? I can’t seem to find the answer with my typical lackluster research, so if anyone out there in blogland has the answer, let me know! While he’s no Lorre, he still did well!

Make sure you pay attention to how the phrase Why not? is used multiple times by multiple characters throughout the broadcast! I just watched the film and I can’t remember if they did the same thing with those two words or not. It’s a fun little usage of the question as it’s repeated back and forth in several scenes for various reasons and emotions. Maybe as an English major I’m a sucker for little things like that, but I thought it was fun.

The Bogart Factor

We get to hear Bogart do a ton of voiceover narration as they obviously have to condense the plot considerably to fit it into a half hour time slot, so it’s fun to hear him tackle a pretty tried-and-true private eye trope.

Being in front of an audience on a live broadcast also means that he only gets one take to do his lines, and as anyone’s who’s seen the Breakdowns outtakes knows, Bogart could have a bit of a temper when he flubbed a line and let loose with an occasional curse. Here though, he’s very professional when he drops a word or repeats a phrase, and it’s hardly noticeable.

If nothing else, you’ve got to give this one a listen just to relive the chemistry between Bogart and Greenstreet. Both of them amp up their respective character’s senses of humor – especially in initial conversation with each other, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

The Cast

Mary Astor reprises her role from the film as the femme fatale, Brigid O’Shaughnessy. For the original film, Director John Huston reportedly had Astor run around the set before scenes in order to give her a breathy and flustered demeanor. We don’t get that here and it seems to take a little bit of the edge off of her performance, but we do get something a little more subtle and interesting. Great emphasis is placed upon Brigid being a “liar” by all of the broadcast’s characters, and when Astor acknowledges it, there’s a wonderful personality shift that takes place. Astor plays Brigid a little more naïve and naughty until Bogart calls her out on her manipulative behavior – then she instantly switches over to a more cold and calculating – borderline sociopathic­ – demeanor. I liked it a lot even though it wasn’t as fun as the filmed version.

Sydney Greenstreet reprises the role of Kaspar Gutman, the “fat man” who’s chasing the bird around the world. Check out how much he’s revved up his laugh for this radio adaption! His giddiness is so over the top that his laugh is able to generate a few of the audible audience laughs throughout the show. He seems to be having a lot of fun as he dives back into his Oscar nominated role, and it’s well worth the time of any Greenstreet fan to give it a listen.

Like I said earlier, I’m still trying to track down the man behind Joel Cairo for this show. He had pretty big boots to fill as he stepped in for Peter Lorre, and he does well. He sounds similar, but is clearly not trying to do a Lorre impression which is nice. His accent is subdued to the point that it’s not distracting. And his chemistry with Bogart is one of the best parts of this broadcast.

Classic Bogie Moment

In all of his pre-superstar days in B-films and small roles, no one could die onscreen like Bogart. You have to check out the moment here where he only has audio to use when he’s drugged and has to pass out. Between his slurred speech and the thud that follows, it creates a pretty realistic loss of consciousness – and it’s a bit reminiscent of all those painful grunts as he slumps to the ground after being shot in his early films!

The Bottom Line

Not quite as good as the earlier broadcast that included Lorre, but an easy listen and time well spent with three of cinemas greats! Listen to it on a car or plane ride and have fun.

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

The Maltese Falcon Poster

My Review

—Bogart, Lorre, Greenstreet, Astor, Huston – ‘Nuff Said—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: John Huston

The Lowdown

A private detective (Humphrey Bogart) tries to unravel the mystery behind a priceless statue after a beautiful woman (Mary Astor) hires him for a case that leads to his partner’s (Jerome Cowan) death.

What I Thought

Writing something up for Bogart’s more obscure classics always seems like a breeze. Writing something for these iconic classics however . . . that’s always tough. So much has been written about The Maltese Falcon that it’s hard to know what I could ever add to the conversation.

Warner Brother’s originally assigned George Raft to the role of Sam Spade – not because they really wanted him for the role, but because they wanted Henry Fonda for another film and Fonda worked for Twentieth Century Fox. So follow this . . . Raft didn’t want to do The Maltese Falcon. He supposedly hated the script and didn’t want to work with first time director John Huston. (Huston didn’t want him either. Bogart was always Huston’s first choice.) So Warner Brothers, knowing that Raft would balk at Falcon, gave him the option of going on ‘suspension’ so that he could go over to Fox and Fonda could come over to Warner Brothers.

Raft in the Spade role would have been different. I don’t think it would have killed the film if the actor and the director could have put their personal differences aside and shot the movie as Huston wanted it, but it probably wouldn’t be the classic that it is today.

Looking back, Warner Brothers had all of the ingredients for a timeless classic. Bogart, Lorre, and Greenstreet. John Huston writing and directing. A film based on a famous novel that had never been filmed well in two prior attempts. But Bogart was an unproven draw. Lorre was still regarded as a foreign character actor that could do well, but was considered more of a novelty than anything else. And Greenstreet was making his film debut after years in the theater. For Warner Brothers, this was still gamble with a whole lot of unknown variables in the mix.

Look how well it paid off.

The legend of this film is so wide and so deep that when one of the falcons from the film came up for auction in November of 2014 it went for over 4 million dollars and the story was covered by all the major news outlets. (The only movie memorabilia item that I could find to have sold for more was one of James Bond’s Aston Martins which went for $4.1 million.) People love this film deeply.

A small cast of brilliant actors, tight directing with no wasted scenes, a faithful adaption from the novel that lifts moments directly from the book, and a hungry first-time director who happens to be a genius make The Maltese Falcon flawless in a lot of people’s eyes. I really can’t disagree. This is one of those films that could play on an endless loop in my house and I’d never get tired of it.

The Bogart Factor

I love watching The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep back to back. Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are so similar and yet so different at the same time. Both are private eyes who let money lead them down some pretty dark paths, yet while Spade seems cynical and embittered by humanity, Marlowe is able to hold onto a more playful outlook on life, flirting and quipping his way through every situation without quite as much sarcasm dripping from every line.

Bogart had made a splash with High Sierra just months before The Maltese Falcon premiered, but this was definitely one of the first big films that showed Warner Brothers that Bogart’s name could really start to become a draw for fans. His B-movie career all but died after The Maltese Falcon won over audiences and his filmography quickly filled with some of Hollywood’s most beloved classic films.

Bogart’s interactions with Astor, Lorre, Greenstreet, and Elisha Cook Jr. show a man who seems in complete control of every emotion and physicality in an actor’s toolbox, and there’s a level of confidence on display that I don’t think Bogart hit so highly in any of his previous films.

The Cast

Mary Astor plays femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy, the woman who pulls Bogart into the danger and mystery surrounding the falcon statue. According to a few different bios and websites, Director Huston had Astor run around the set before takes in order to lend a constant, breathless quality to her performance. After re-watching this film for the umpteenth time, I have to say that it certainly seems to be true and it works well for her performance. I guess Astor had a bit of a reputation around Hollywood at the time for enjoying her time with lots of different men and that helped feed into the excitement of this film when it came out. While that aspect might be lost on modern day viewers, Astor is still amazing in the role – hitting all the right notes and keeping the audience’s sympathies despite a string of nonstop lies and manipulations.

Peter Lorre plays Joel Cairo, one of the criminals who’s been chasing around the world in order to lay hands on the statue. I can’t say enough good things about Lorre here. He looks to be in the best shape of his life. He plays a coward who’s able to muster some courage when there’s a gun in his hand, giving both an air of humor and danger to many scenes. His moments with Bogart and Greenstreet are all the more fun when you consider how much he thought of both men in real life. Strangely enough, I think that one of my favorite aspects about his performance might be his hair! It’s so wonderfully dark and curly and thick and slick looking! I’ve read a lot about what a ladies’ man Lorre was and this film is always the one that convinces me that all the stories could well be true!

Sydney Greenstreet made his film debut at 62 years old playing Kasper Gutman, the main goon who’s following the falcon around the globe. Every single scene Greenstreet’s in is pure joy. His laugh is amazing, his amusement over Bogart’s confusion is wonderful, and it’s a real shame that it took so long to get this man to the big screen. I’m incredibly jealous of all the audiences that got to see him on stage in England for years before coming to Hollywood as there hasn’t been a big-man actor with such a commanding presence onscreen since his last film over 60 years ago. By gad! The scene where he turns on Wilmer is so painfully funny and well done that it might be my favorite bit from all of his films. A villain who so believably loves life while committing dastardly crimes at the same time is the best kind of bad guy a film could ever hope for.

Elisha Cook Jr. plays Greenstreet’s diminutive sidekick and gunman, Wilmer Cook. The other actors in this film are so great that Cook often seems to be overlooked in reviews, but he’s really good. His moments with Bogart and his betrayal at the hands of Greenstreet would be considered the best of the film if Lorre hadn’t been so good at stealing scenes.

Lee Patrick plays Bogart’s secretary, Effie. I love the fact the woman who works for Sam Spade seems almost as sultry and dangerous as the woman who hires him onto a case that almost gets him killed. Patrick’s role isn’t huge, but she’s great. This is exactly the kind of woman that Spade would want working for him as she seems almost as sardonic as he does. Yet, she still seems to have a good heart buried beneath the cynicism as she quickly agrees to take Astor into her apartment to keep her safe when things start to get rough. I need to check out the rest of Patrick’s filmography.

Bogie Film Blog favorite Barton MacLane plays Lt. of Detectives Dundy. This guy is such a solid supporting actor and it’s fun to see him in a role where he’s not completely against Bogart. They get to have some fun back-and-forth teasing with just the right amount of edge to it. I can’t wait to add MacLane to ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of the blog.

Jerome Cowan plays Bogart’s ill-fated partner, Miles Archer. It’s a very small role for Cowan as he’s bumped off early on in the film, but he does well. He’s a good reminder for the audience that private detectives can run a bit on the sleazy side as his love for women is probably what gets him killed in the first place.

Gladys George plays Cowan’s widow, and Bogart’s mistress, Iva Archer. Again, it’s another small role that seems to be in place in order to show us a darker side of Spade’s character, but George does fine in the role with what she has to work with.

Classic Bogie Moment

So much to love here. I’m torn between a shot of him behind the desk as Astor enters his office, a shot of him with the falcon, a shot of him with Astor, and a shot of him with Greenstreet. But I just can’t resist this moment from the film where two men who genuinely came to love one another’s company in real life create one of my favorite moments in film history:

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Bogart Lorre Falcon

“When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it!”

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The Bottom Line

It’s the stuff that cinematic dreams are made of!

Conflict – 1945

Conflict Poster

My Review

—Great Hitchcock-like Thriller—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Curtis Bernhardt

The Lowdown

A wealthy engineer (Humphrey Bogart) murders his wife (Rose Hobart) hoping that he can then move on to her younger sister (Alexis Smith). The only problem? The supposedly dead wife continues to be a presence in his life. Did she survive? Is it a ghost?

What I Thought

Here’s another film that at the time of its release received some mixed reviews, but I thought was really good.

Conflict could be put with The Caine Mutiny and In a Lonely Place for a night of films themed “The Paranoia Trilogy.” This is another great performance by Bogart where we get to watch him slowly fall apart within his own mind as he begins to question his sanity.

The performances are all strong, and while I don’t want to blaspheme the great Alfred Hitchcock, I thought Conflict’s script and noir-ish feel was much akin to Hitchcock’s Suspicion, or even the earlier Rebecca. If you like suspenseful thrillers, this film will be right up your alley. The murder scene on the mountain pass is especially chilling, and it’s the first time that I’ve ever been watching a Bogart film and felt that his character was truly evil.

There are a few small hitches I found with the script. While I thought the twist was done well, it does open up a lot more questions than it answers. Without revealing too much, when you watch it, just consider how much work the final protagonist had to put in to do the things that had to be done. Cryptic enough? In particular, think about the scene where Bogart thinks he’s following his wife into the apartment building and then confronts the landlord.

On the flip side, after the film is said and done, rewind back to the initial scene where Bogart is sitting in his house with the police and Sydney Greenstreet. Rewatching that scene after knowing the crucial twist from the ending gave me an all new appreciation of Greenstreet’s ability to play subtlety.

All in all, it was great to see a film where Bogart and Greenstreet were good friends, and the direction of the film makes me excited to watch Director Curtis Bernhardt and Bogart’s other collaboration, Sirocco.

The Bogart Factor

With Bogart’s portrayal of Richard Mason, we get an even more paranoid and dangerous version of The Caine Mutiny’s Captain Queeg and In a Lonely Place’s Dixon Steele. Both Queeg and Steele were characters, who by the very nature of their true intentions, were able to garner sympathy from the audience. Mason on the other hand, is just a true sociopath. No matter how charming he might seem, once the murder takes place, we can’t forget what’s really boiling beneath the surface.

Bogart’s played characters that were unlikable before, but they were often the stock-gangster bad guys who really posed no real threat to the protagonist. Or, even if the bad guy was a more powerful central figure (Duke Mantee, Roy Earle, etc.), we find ourselves in quiet awe as we respect him in the same way that we might so many other outlaw antiheroes of cinema history. This isn’t simply a man who’s fighting his darker urges, this is a man who’s fully given over to his most evil intentions in order to redesign his entire life. The moment that Mason pushes his wife’s car over the cliff, our sympathies lie fully with Alexis Smith and Sydney Greenstreet as we hope and pray that they figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.

Overall, I thought Bogart hit all the right notes. It’s a much more subdued paranoia than he played with Queeg or Steele.

The Cast

Sydney Greenstreet plays psychologist Dr. Mark Hamilton, family friend to Bogart’s Dick Mason. How great is it to not only see Greenstreet play a good guy in a Bogart film, but to see them actually chum around a bit before things get tense? Greenstreet is so good as the warm and gregarious Dr. Hamilton that you just want to give the big guy a hug. He seems truly happy in the role.

Rose Hobart plays Kathryn Mason, the wife that Bogart murders. I thought that Hobart did a great job of playing Kathryn as the disgruntled spouse who just wants a little more love from her husband. Director Bernhardt did a fine job of portraying a realistic married couple who struggles privately while putting on a good face for the public.

Alexis Smith plays Hobart’s younger sister, Evelyn Turner – the woman that Bogart kills for. She does pretty well here, although I didn’t feel quite enough chemistry between Smith and Bogart to believe the infatuation he has for her. Perhaps if she’d been characterized as a little bit more of a friendly flirt who lots of guys fall for? I don’t know. Other than the chemistry factor, I thought she was solid.

Charles Drake plays the young professor Norman Holsworth who is pursuing Alexis Smith, potentially foiling Bogart’s plans. He was all right here, but it’s an underwritten role, and Drake is mainly used for plot advancement.

Classic Bogie Moment

How often did we get to see Bogart and Greenstreet sharing a scene as friends? Well, here they are! I’ll give this weekly spot on the blog over to a moment where we get to enjoy the two men as allies:

Bogart and Sydney in Conflict

Make Sure to Notice

Wait! What’s that just over Bogart’s head?!? Could that be the Maltese Falcon? Looks like it! Although it resembles the falcon on the novel’s cover more than the one from the John Huston film, it’s still a wonderful inside joke for this Bogart-Greenstreet collaboration:

Maltese Falcon in Conflict

The Bottom Line

Conflict is a must see and a little underrated in my opinion!

Peter Lorre

maltese falcon pic
Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, The Maltese Falcon, 1941

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The Usual Suspects:

Early on during the first few weeks of this blog, I had the idea to start a section where I would write about some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators and costars – actors, directors, writers, etc. – that worked with him on multiple films.  Given the contract system of the movie studios, casts and crews often overlapped from one film to another.  Character actor Eddy Chandler, for instance, costarred in thirteen different pictures with Bogart, almost exclusively in tiny bit parts, often uncredited.  But there were also those artists that Bogart had deep personal friendships with, and sometimes, strong working relationships – people that often appeared repeatedly by choice, supporting Hollywood’s most famous leading man to make some of the greatest films in cinema history.

Dubbed The Usual Suspects, this first post is in response to the “Dynamic Duos” Blogathon over at Classic Movie Hub (@ClassicMovieHub) and Once Upon a Screen (@CitizenScreen).  What better way to begin, I thought, than by kicking it off with one of Bogie’s most famous costars and close friends, Peter Lorre.

The Man

Born in Rózsahegy, Hungary, László Löwenstein began his acting career by sacrificing everything he had in life to devote himself to the theater, eventually moving to Germany to study under playwright Bertolt Brecht.  Brecht latched onto Lorre right away and knew how to use him, bringing the unique looking actor much acclaim during their long and productive collaboration together.  Adopting the stage name Peter Lorre in 1925, Lowenstein received his big break in the starring role of his second movie, playing a child murderer in Fritz Lang’s M.

When the Nazis fully took power of Germany in 1933, Lorre left, traveling Europe and eventually arriving at London.  His performance in M got him noticed by director Alfred Hitchcock and led to a role in Hitchcock’s film The Man Who Knew Too Much.  After working with Hitchcock, Lorre would make his move to Hollywood where he found great success with his unique look and soft speech pattern playing an assortment of bad guys and shady characters.

Lorre would go on to star in the Mr. Moto movie series in which he played a Japanese detective in eight different films.  He also became a longtime collaborator with actor Sydney Greenstreet, making nine films with the English stage legend.

Lorre is perhaps best known, though, as the five-time costar and good friend of Humphrey Bogart.  Working together on some of Hollywood’s most legendary classic films, Bogart and Lorre left behind some great stories of onset pranks, drinking revelry, and a deep friendship that reverberate through Hollywood lore to this day.

It was at Lorre’s house where Bogart would sleep off many a drunk night rather than go home to face his third wife, Mayo Methot.  It was also at Lorre’s ranch where Bogart and Lauren Bacall would hideaway for weekend rendezvous when they needed to stay out of the limelight as they courted.  And perhaps most famously, it was Lorre who gave this advice when Bogart fretted that he was too old for Lauren Bacall – “Five good years are better than none!”

THE FILMOGRAPHY

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

joel cairo 2

Lorre plays Joel Cairo, an associate of Sydney Greenstreet’s Kasper ‘The Fatman’ Gutman.  Both men make attempts to hire Sam Spade (Humprhey Bogart) to acquire a valuable jewel-encrusted falcon statue – perhaps the most famous cinema ‘MacGuffin’ of all time.  Cairo, who’s portrayed overtly gay in the novel on which the film is based, has his homosexuality toned down considerably in this film due to the Hay’s Code of film censorship.  Instead of direct references, Cairo’s sexuality is inferred through his effeminate fussiness, and occasional physicalities with his cane:

Reportedly, the cast and crew got along very well during the filming of this movie, and would go out for drinks at the end of the day as they were often ahead of production schedule.  They were also a very close knit and private group, unappreciative of outside influence either from the studio or the public.  One particularly famous story relates that one of the main actors, either Bogart or Lorre, played a joke on a visiting women’s club as they walked by the set.  One of the two actors supposedly exited Mary Astor’s trailer, zipping up his fly, and calling out “Bye, Mary!”  A. M. Sperber credits the story as happening to Lorre in her Bogart bio, Bogart (p 160), while Stefan Kanfer names Bogart as the perpetrator in his Bogart bio, Tough Without a Gun (p 65).  Neither author cites specifically where they got the story, but I suppose what’s most important is not the actual culprit, but the reputation that the cast had earned as ornery tricksters and close friends.

All Through the Night – 1942

pepi

Lorre plays Pepi, the Nazi hitman and sometimes piano accompanist to Kaaren Verne’s Leda Hamilton.  Pepi kicks off the storyline by murdering “Gloves” Donahue’s (Humphrey Bogart) favorite cheesecake baker, setting off a chain of events that leads New York’s most notorious gangsters up against the Third Reich in this comedy thriller.

Lorre enters the film walking through the door of a baker’s shop, eerily humming a tune before teasing the poor baker and then beating him to death.  Referred to as “the goggle-eyed little rat,” by ‘Gloves,’ Lorre is wonderful, and one of the true highlights of the film.  Only two actors are capable of smoking in such a way as to defy gravity – Lorre and Bogart – as their cigarettes dangle at an impossible 90 degree angle from their lips.

Karen Verne would go on to leave her husband for Lorre, becoming Lorre’s second wife, although their marriage would prove to be tumultuous and short lived.

Casablanca – 1942

ugarte and rick

Lorre plays Ugarte, a black marketeer who hides valuable letters of transit with Bogart’s Rick Blaine before being arrested by the police.  Ugarte’s plan is to sell the papers for a small fortune in order to pay for his escape from Casablanca.  His relationship with Blaine seems to be one of mutual loathing and respect.  They don’t necessarily like each other, but they occasionally find one another valuable.

Just before giving Blaine the transit papers, Ugarte tells him “You know, Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.”  Blaine tells Ugarte that he’ll hold the papers for him, but doesn’t want them in his nightclub overnight.  We then get perhaps the most ominous moment in the film when Ugarte lightly puts his hands upon the papers and gently tells Rick “Don’t be afraid of them. . .”  The papers are Casablanca’s ‘MacGuffin,’ and once again Peter Lorre is here to play a hand in the treasured objects of fate.  Men died for Ugarte to obtain the papers, and more people would die before they are finally used.  As the objects of everyone’s desires, even Blaine himself contemplates stealing the papers to run away with Ilsa.

Lorre’s part in the movie was small and shot so quickly that he had no idea how much the role would go on to help define his place in cinema history.  On the set, he supposedly carried a hidden dropper of water that he would use to extinguish Director Michael Curtiz’s cigarette with when he wasn’t looking.  (Kanfer, 79)

Passage to Marseille – 1944

marius

Lorre plays Marius, one of Bogart’s fellow escaped convicts from Devil’s Island.  I found this to be one of Lorre’s most likable roles, as he’s a full-on action partner to Bogart in the film, teaming up to both escape from prison, and then later to take down a Nazi bomber as it attacks their ship.  Seeing both men take their shots at the German plane with machine guns, occasionally stopping to wave to one another and smile, is one of my favorite moments in Bogart / Lorre cinema history.

marius 2

There’s a lot of delight to be had watching both men squint, smoke, and plot together as they make their way back to France.  This is the only film out of the five in which they are on completely friendly terms, and their chemistry is superb.

As the story goes, Bogart and Lorre took great fun in pranking Director Michael Curtiz on the set.  Both would take turns stalling shots as they told long and tedious anecdotes.  The monologues would only end when they got a laugh from Curtiz.  No laugh from the director meant more jokes and stories from Bogart and Lorre.  (Kanfer, 96)

Beat the Devil – 1953

devil

Lorre plays Mr. O’Hara, a member of the criminal ring that’s in league with Bogart to obtain and exploit some African land that’s rich with uranium.  Bogart and Director John Huston wanted Lorre on this film as they believed that he was a lucky talisman for Bogart after The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. (Kanfer, 175)  Not to mention the fact that Lorre and Bogart were good drinking friends, and always enjoyed each other’s company.  Huston and Bogart asked Lorre to take a significant pay cut in order to keep the budget low, and Lorre accepted the role in order to work with a good friend.

Lorre’s costar, Robert Morley, on the other hand, considered Lorre to be “an intensely tiresome little chap with quite the foulest vocabulary I have ever had the misfortune to listen to.” (Kanfer, 178)

Sporting some extra weight and a short crop of blond hair, Lorre is great as the smooth-talking little crook that is excited for the swindle, but always ready to cower behind one of the other criminals if things look rough.

If you haven’t seen it in a while, the film is a lot of fun, and it’s great to hear Lorre’s distinctive speech pattern saying lines written by scriptwriter Truman Capote:

O’Hara:  “Time, time, what is it?  The Swiss manufacture it, the French hoard it, Italians want it, Americans say it’s money, Hindus say it does not exist.  You know what I say?  I say time is a crook.”

Truer words were never spoken as you consider the fact that this was the last pairing of the two great Classic Hollywood actors.

In Closing

Five films.  All of them are classics in their own right.   One of them is considered by many to be the greatest film of all time.  The friendship and working relationship of Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre has etched a large and permanent mark onto the landscape of cinema history.  Powerfully gifted apart, but even greater together, I can’t think of a better duo to kick off the inaugural post for The Usual Suspects portion of this blog.

Bonus Lorre Facts:

He was the very first actor to play a bond villain when he portrayed Le Chiffre in the 1954 TV version of Casino Royale!

When asked by the House Un-American Activities Committee to name the names of anyone he considered suspicious and possibly a communist, Lorre gave them a list of everyone he knew.  The same group would go on to assemble a thick file on Bogart and cause him considerable mental turmoil over the years despite the fact that he was a diehard U.S. patriot.

The Boo Berry ghost mascot from General Mills was inspired by Lorre.

*All research for this post was done with Stephen D. Youngkin’s Peter Lorre biography, The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre, A. M. Sperber’s Humphrey Bogart biography, Bogart, Stefan Kanfer’s Humphrey Bogart biography, Tough Without a Gun, Peter Lorre’s Wikipedia page, The Maltese Falcon’s Wikipedia page, the official website of The Humphrey Bogart Estate, and various movie entries on IMDB.  All screen caps were done by the author and are intended for review/criticism of the films mentioned.  Any portion of this post that could not be correlated with at least one other source is credited specifically within the post.

Passage to Marseille – 1944

Passage

My Review

—Very Good—

Your Bogie Fix:

4.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

Come slip down the rabbit hole as we have a movie that exists almost entirely in a flashback – but not just a flashback – as it’s a flashback within a flashback, which I think even delves into another flashback!  Worry not, though, as director Michael Curtiz is well skilled in the art of filmmaking, and guides us easily through the multilayered story.

Claude Rains is Captain Freycinet, commander of an Allied air base that’s about to launch a bombing raid out of England.  John Loder is a reporter named Manning who sits down with the Captain and hears an amazing tale of five Devil’s Island escapees who are rescued from their ocean-adrift canoe by a steam tramp that’s headed to Marseilles, France during World War II.

The catch?

The steam tramp has a delegation of English and French officers onboard (including Capt. Freycinet), and mid trip, word breaks that the French have submitted to German occupation.  The escaped prisoners are all patriotic Frenchmen trying to make it home to fight, and the English officers onboard would kindly appreciate it if the ship would change course for England.

Even before France’s occupation is announced, though, we know that there’s trouble afoot because French officer Major Duval, is on board, played by the wonderfully snarky Sydney Greenstreet.  Duval immediately pegs the prisoners as escaped convicts from France, and when it’s discovered that the Germans are now in charge of his home country, the Major can’t get there quickly enough to show his support to the new occupiers and turn over the prisoners to the proper authorities.

What ensues is a climactic battle between the steamer and a German bomber as Freycinet and the prisoners try to keep the ship in one piece long enough to make it back to safe waters.

Bogart plays one of the five prisoners, a French reporter named Jean Matrac, who ended up on Devil’s Island after being framed for murder.  Matrac saw the corruption of the French government growing long before the rest of the world did and is shipped off to the prison after printing a series of tell-all articles in his paper.  His goal after the escape?  Make it home to his wife, Paula, played by Michèle Morgan, who worked side by side with him in the newspaper office until it was shut down.  Matrac also has a son he’s never met, who we meet before the flashback, anxiously waiting for a letter from his father to be dropped from a bomber after a raid.

Unlike the other four convicts who escaped Devil’s Island with him, Matrac is unsure of his allegiance to his former country.  Consumed with bitterness and revenge, we’re not sure where his allegiances lie until he’s forced to make a choice and fight.

Joining Bogart as another one of the convicts is Peter Lorre as Marius, in what I found to be one of his most likable roles (despite the fact that he’s a convicted felon!).  Perhaps the biggest highlight of the movie is getting to see Bogart and Lorre team up against a German bomber while wielding two on-deck machine guns.  Watching them offer friendly waves back and forth across deck as they take shots, and avoid shots, was great fun.  Bogie and Lorre – action heroes!  Believe it or not.

marius 2Peter Lorre waving to Bogart across the deck while battling the German bomber.

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The entire movie is said to be a slightly missed attempt at recreating the magic that was Casablanca, as so many of the cast and crew return from that movie including director, writer, composer, producer, and at least five other actors.  Perhaps I’m far enough removed from the era, but I thought that my love for Casablanca only enhanced my enjoyment of this film.  The story is much more action oriented, and it comes off as more of a prison escape movie rather than a war romance.

I’ve only done limited research, but I wonder how much the solitary confinement scenes from Passage influenced the ones in Papillon.  It would make a fun double feature!

The Great

Michael Curtiz directed a lot films in his long and prolific career, and while not all of them were gems, his classics outweigh his bombs.  Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, Angels with Dirty Faces, White Christmas, We’re No Angels, etc.  Curtiz had the skills to make amazing films.  Just the way the multiple flashbacks are handled without confusion shows a director with a fine hand at storytelling without losing an audience.

Bogart plays dark and brooding like no other.  If you like his action oriented roles, this will satisfy you greatly.  The interrogation scene with Freycinet and the prisoners is especially well acted by Bogart as he directs the other men with nothing more than subtle head nods.  The man knew how to do a lot with just a little.

Bogart, Rains, Lorre, and Greenstreet together?  Fantastic.  While none of them have the depth of character that they had in Casablanca, this was a fun film to assemble them for again.  Rains especially nails his role during a funeral in the final moments of the movie.

The Good

Even catching sight of the wires on one of the bomber miniatures doesn’t bother me.  I love the special effects from the classic years of Hollywood.  Water tanks and boats built on set.  Miniature bombers.  Matte back drops.  I’ll take this stuff over CGI any day.

While Michèle Morgan doesn’t get quite as juicy of a role as Ingrid Bergman did, she still plays great against Bogart.

Classic Bogie Moment 

No words.  Just a pic this time.  C’mon, we know Bogie’s good with a gun, but how classic is this?

passage classic

The Bottom Line

I loved this movie.  It’s not the best-of-the-best from Bogart’s collection, but it’s in the top half for sure.  I get such a charge out of seeing Bogart and Lorre together, especially when they’re on the same side.  That machine gun scene on the boat is worth the price of admission in itself.  Peter Lorre is the man!

Fun Fact

According to IMDB, this is the movie where Bogart met Bacall!  She wasn’t in the movie, but was on set to test her chemistry against Bogart’s for a little movie called To Have and Have Not.